Martin Hannan: Making tracks for Brigadoon

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Have you been to that bright new town of Shawfair recently? Did you go down to the south-east of Edinburgh into the north of Midlothian and wander around the exquisitely planned Shawfair town centre?

Did you ogle the superb public transport links that Shawfair enjoys, including its own special station on the Borders Railway? Did you appreciate Shawfair’s architecture, gasping in wonderment at the 4000 superb houses constructed there?

Or did you go down and look at empty fields, and wonder why any idiot would build a train station for a place that doesn’t exist, this “new town” so ephemeral that a friend of mine calls the whole farrago of nonsense Brigadoon – except that Brigadoon is supposed to actually appear every hundred years, and right now the mythical village has more chance of showing up than Shawfair.

Don’t get me wrong. Shawfair once made sense as Edinburgh and Midlothian tried manfully to plan the development of the south-east wedge, as it became known.

The planners came up with a marvellous proposal to create a new town – actually a glorified village – and in those heady days, everyone wanted to get involved.

Then along came reality in the shape of the banking crisis and double dip recession, but the planners still stuck to their pipedreams.

The truth is that no right-thinking, sensible developer is going to build 4000 houses at Shawfair in the near future. The housing market in Scotland has collapsed due to the coalition government’s ineptitude and the banks’ unwillingness to lend. New houses are needed, but no one is building them without subsidy, and Shawfair actually demands that builders subsidise the infrastructure, not the other way around.

Shawfair was supposed to be a joint venture on a grand scale between Midlothian Council and private developers with support from Edinburgh City Council, but the major private company involved – Miller Developments – pulled out and there’s no longer any pretence that Shawfair will be built anytime soon.

One company, Mactaggart and Mickel, is committed to getting things started, but only with 150 houses built over a long period.

The problem with this Brigadoonery is that real people are going to lose real jobs soon, because that nonsensical juggernaut, the Borders Railway Project, is going ahead come what may.

Now everyone knows that the Waverley Line, as it used to be known, was one of the prices the Lib Dems exacted from the Labour Party for joining their coalition in the Scottish Executive – remember that? – at the start of this century.

Like other Labour-Lib Dem 
fiascos such as the Edinburgh trams, the Waverley Line made it to the statute book, and since it is an Act of Parliament, the Scottish Government must build it.

In Millerhill, however, the price will be the jobs of local people who work at The Cockatoo Restaurant and Jewsons the builders merchants.

Some 40 people could lose their livelihood because the planners simply cannot understand that the roads they are proposing to close to make way for their beloved – by them alone – Borders Railway will decimate and close local businesses.

Here’s the rub – the Glass family who own the Cockatoo have come up with alternative road plans that could save perhaps £1 million off the railway project.

Yet despite the involvement of MP David Hamilton and MSP Colin Beattie, no one is listening at Midlothian Council or Transport Scotland, the quango which is in charge of the project.

Council and quango say the plans cannot be altered, and that includes the closure of the A6106 between Sheriffhall Roundabout and Newton.

What utter nonsense. Of course plans can be changed, especially when a local authority’s own interests are involved.

The problem with planners and transport managers is that unless it suits their interests, once they have a situation on paper and a project to deal with, there is nothing that will change their minds, collectively and individually.

The phrase “bureaucratic mindset” was not coined accidentally. It accurately reflects – in my personal experience – the exact approach that planners in particular take to their job. Once the plans have been “finalised” then they’re set in stone and immutable.

The Glass family are friends of mine, but even if I did not know them from Adam and his bairns I would still write that they and Jewsons are the victims of a particularly unpleasant bureaucratic stitch-up.

For anyone who applies an objective eye to this situation must surely conclude that there is one glaring omission from all the plans for the area – that’s right, Brigadoon . . . sorry, Shawfair.

Nothing has been built yet. Designs have not been finalised. There’s still time for talks, at least, to avoid jobs going, as long as certain people accept this reality – Shawfair is not Brigadoon . . . it’s not that permanent.